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Father James Wehner named new rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary

Father James A. Wehner, who has served for the last three years as rector-president of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, has been named the new rector-president of the Notre Dame Seminary, beginning July 1, Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced March 22.

“These past three years have been some of the best of my priesthood,” Father Wehner said. "Working alongside faithful priests, a dedicated lay faculty and a committed staff, amazing things have taken place at the Josephinum.”

The seminary’s efforts of recent years have led the institution to the national forefront of priestly formation. With an enrollment increase of 53 percent in just two years and the successful recruitment of new dioceses and priest-faculty, the Josephinum finds itself in a position of tremendous strength, stability and security.

“The Josephinum was a highly respected, highly successful seminary before my time as rector,” said Father Wehner. “The successes of the past few years are a credit to the hard work of those who came before me and will serve as a solid foundation for continued excellence.”

Father Wehner is a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“Father Wehner’s indefatigable energies, devoted dedication to duty, and unflagging attention to detail have made a lasting difference both for the Josephinum’s present and for our future,” said Msgr. Christopher Schreck, executive vice president of the Josephinum. "Thanks to his efforts and leadership in promoting and advancing the seminary’s vision, in assuring our financial foundation, and in stewarding our unique status among Catholic seminaries, the Josephinum can both celebrate present success and count on a continually bright future.”

Father Wehner’s direction of the Josephinum has focused on strengthening the seminary at its core. An institutional strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in 2010, will continue to guide the Josephinum for the next five years. Both the College of Liberal Arts and School of Theology were granted reaccreditation in 2011; in the same year, the Josephinum received a five-year renewal of its affiliation with the Pontifical Lateran University (Rome) through which the Josephinum offers the STB degree.

In addition to utilizing consultative bodies such as the Administrative Board and Priestly Formation Board throughout his tenure, Father Wehner appointed highly qualified faculty and staff to key positions – Chair of Philosophy, Chair of Humanities, Director of Hispanic Ministry, Director of Sacred Music, Director of Maintenance, Director of Josephinum Advancement, Director of Human Formation, and Director of Strategic Planning.

The vast array of handbooks and manuals that guide the many facets of priestly formation were revised extensively for use through 2015, and a restructuring of the humanities and philosophy curriculum implemented in 2010 will ensure that the intellectual requirements of the college programs not only meet but exceed the directives of the Program of Priestly Formation.

In the past three years, $1.7 million in capital improvements have served to beautify and preserve the historic Josephinum campus. In addition, a $2.2 million renovation of the college seminarian residence is currently underway.

Supporting these efforts are a 41 percent increase in the Annual Appeal and a 32 percent growth in the endowment since 2010, as well as the success of new fund-raising events.

As pastor of the seminary, Father Wehner made efforts to develop a personal relationship with each seminarian, a goal that became more demanding as enrollment steadily increased. Nevertheless, he continued, according to Father Walter Oxley, the theology vice rector, to be a “true shepherd” to the community.

“Father Wehner is a man with a deep love for the church and for priestly formation," Father Oxley said. "For him, seminary formation is about a personally lived spiritual fatherhood, which is manifested in his relationship with each seminarian.”

Father Wehner has promised to give the same zeal and dedication to his new position as rector of Notre Dame Seminary, established in 1923 by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

“The seminarians at Notre Dame will receive the same love, joy and effort I have endeavored to give the Josephinum," he said. "I look forward to my new friends, and pray that our mutual and collaborative ministry will bear much fruit.”

The decision to leave the Josephinum was not an easy one and was made only after a period of intense prayer, quiet reflection and collegial advice.

“I dearly love the men in formation at the Josephinum and have the highest respect for my brother priests and fellow faculty members and staff,” he said. “The only way I could discern the possibility of a new position was first to assure that no compromise could fall upon the Josephinum.”

During a discussion of the potential new position, Father Wehner and a small group of trusted colleagues confirmed unanimously that the Josephinum is in the best shape possible, that it has priest and lay faculty of the highest caliber and its staff is most competent.

“If a change were to take place with a new rector,” said Father Wehner, “we determined that the Josephinum could be in an even better position to move forward.”

Following a formal interview process, Archbishop Gregory Aymond invited Father Wehner to serve as rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary beginning July 1.

"I am most grateful to accept the position and look forward to the opportunity to serve the seminarians at Notre Dame,” said Father Wehner. “Archbishop Aymond has an exciting vision for the seminary. I hope to serve him well and meet his high expectations.”

As the Josephinum community prepares to bid farewell to Father Wehner, the seminary’s Board of Trustees will begin the process of selecting a new rector. In the meantime, the current administration is committed to ensuring a smooth transition, continuing the extraordinary growth and achievements of the past three years.

“The successes of the past few years are true gifts from God,” said Father Oxley. “It has been a true joy to form men for the priesthood of Jesus Christ with Father Wehner. He has taught us much about courageous leadership and how to be true men of the church. His vision is the vision of the church, and it will continue at the Pontifical College Josephinum for years to come.”

Pontifical College Josephinum  (www.pcj.edu) was founded in 1888, by German immigrant priest Msgr. Joseph Jessing. It was granted pontifical status in 1892 by Pope Leo XIII, thus becoming, and remaining, the only pontifical seminary in the Western Hemisphere. Originally established as an orphanage in 1874, today the Josephinum educates seminarians from the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. Alumni serve the universal church in 22 countries and 48 states.

The Josephinum comprises a four-year College of Liberal Arts and a four-year graduate School of Theology. The Josephinum prepares priests for:

– U.S. dioceses that do not have their own seminaries;

– Missionary areas of the United States;

– Regions of the U.S. with growing Hispanic communities;

–  Dioceses around the world in need of help with the education of their seminarians.